Until you’ve experienced a BMW plug-in hybrid, you don’t know how good it can be. So, we took some Autocar and What Car? readers to Goodwood to find out
The BMW 330e is one of a new breed of BMW plug-in hybrids changing the game for hybrid cars – delivering more electric range, improved economy and lower CO2 emissions than their predecessors, without ever compromising the premium sporty driving feel you expect from a BMW.
Our Autocar road test team gave the BMW 330e a 4.5-star review, while What Car? named it the best Executive Car and best Plug-in Hybrid in the recent 2020 What Car? Awards – with the 3 Series range also picking up a What Car? trophy for its standard-setting safety features.
We wanted to find out what you think about BMW’s pace-setting plug-in hybrid technology, though. So, we invited a group of Autocar and What Car? readers to Goodwood, putting them behind the wheel of the BMW 330e to get their thoughts.
To find out more about BMW’s extensive range of plug-in hybrids, head to BMW.co.uk
Hybrid: the best of all worlds
BMW has expanded and refined its range of advanced plug-in hybrids in recent years. The result is a diverse line-up of electrified models – from the 2 Series Active Tourer, through the 3 Series, 5 Series and 7 Series saloons, to the X1, X3 and X5 SUVs – all offering more electric range, improved economy, lower CO2 emissions and more choice to suit every plug-in hybrid driver’s demands.
The BMW 330e is undoubtedly a star of BMW’s plug-in hybrid pack. Designed to deliver the engaging driving feel of a sports saloon with the efficiency of electric power, it takes all the best bits of the new seventh-generation 3 Series – its stylish looks, dynamic performance and a premium high-tech interior – and adds a plug-in hybrid engine that makes urban and long-distance driving even more efficient.
Blending a 2.0-litre four-cylinder TwinPower Turbo petrol engine with a powerful electric motor and an advanced 12kWh battery, the BMW 330e plug-in hybrid boasts up to 37 miles of whisper-quiet all-electric range that’s perfect for low-cost, low-impact everyday urban commuting.
On longer journeys, electric and petrol power work seamlessly together through the eight-speed Steptronic transmission. Over a mix of electric-only commutes with at-home recharging overnight, and the occasional long weekend drive, that means fuel efficiency of up to 201.8mpg (combined) and CO2 emissions as low as 37g/km.
Crucially it does all that without compromising the BMW 3 Series’ sporty character. Find a challenging B-road, and you can use the full combined 252hp and 420Nm of responsive petrol and electric torque – with XtraBoost mode adding 40hp on-demand – to reach 62mph in 5.9 seconds, with a throaty engine note that feels pure BMW.
And, at your destination, it takes just 3.4 hours to recharge the battery to 80% using a Type 2 charger – meaning you can start your next journey back on electric power.
“It has taken away my fear of hybrid technology”
Reader Connor McLean is a true petrolhead, having owned a mix of Abarth and Audi performance cars and motorbikes in recent years. His biggest concern was that plug-in hybrid technology would dilute BMW’s core driving DNA. But, by the end of his time in the BMW 330e at Goodwood, he admitted he was a convert.
“With the journeys I do – mostly short commutes – a plug-in hybrid is an attractive package for economy,” Connor says. “I’ve been scared that with a hybrid you’ll lose the soul of performance cars. But, in the 330e, the electric and petrol actually work together and complement each other. It’s a pleasure to drive, and deceptively fast.
“The electric motor has that initial oomph, and steps in to fill the turbo lag you’d normally get with a four-cylinder. It corners nice and flat, and it’s well damped. Then, out of the bend, you get that kick from the electric motor. But it’s also composed and serene when you settle down. It’s a really nice place in which to spend a long journey, but it’s got that ability and character to keep me happy. It has definitely taken away my fear of hybrid technology.”
That was a view shared by BMW 330d coupe driver Tim Masters. “I’ve not really driven an electric or hybrid car before,” he said. “So I was keen to find out how the BMW 330e worked in terms of the transition between electric and petrol, because that’s an important part of the real-world driving experience, and maintaining that smoothness and performance that BMW stands for is key.
“The overriding impression is the luxury feeling that the quietness of the electric motor conveys. And it’s not lacking for performance. The electric assistance happens seamlessly, and it’s as quick as you’d want it to be. The handing inspired confidence, and it felt very natural and easy to drive, with BMW in its DNA. A lot of people would get out and not know it’s a hybrid, which is the biggest complement you could pay.”
“The 330e has performance at its heart”
Matthew Brock and Richard Lucking share an electric BMW i3 with a range extender for short local trips, and the occasional longer journey. They wanted to see how the BMW 330e compared to the various 3 Series they’d previously driven, while keeping the benefit of electric range for everyday journeys.
“Although we’ve got the i3, I fancy a larger car again and the BMW 330e seems to be a happy balance of going electric and still having the range and performance of the petrol engine as well,” Matthew said. “I’m impressed with what BMW have done.
“Pulling away on the battery it was nice and quiet, and the transition between electric and petrol was smooth. It also felt like the 330e has performance at its heart. When you put your foot down, using petrol and electric together, it absolutely shot off.”
As Richard added: “With the BMW i3, we’re quite used to charging and I’ve always liked the technology. But I’m also a petrolhead. From a day-to-day point of view, being able to drive on electric power is a damn sight cheaper than petrol, and the 330e feels like it would be a civilized car for sitting in a traffic jam.
“I think people would be surprised how normal and easy it felt to drive. If you didn’t know it was a plug-in hybrid, you’d drive it quite happily without realising it. Put the XtraBoost mode on, with petrol and electric working together, and it feels rapid.”
Not just a hybrid. Every inch a BMW
In all respects, the BMW 330e delivers everything you’d expect from a seventh-generation 3 Series. The design language builds on 45 years of sleek iconic BMW saloon style with precise clean lines and bold contours, while clever engineering – including a semi-sealed underbody, active flaps and aero-optimised wheels – substantially reduces drag from 0.26Cd to 0.23Cd.
Under the skin, the new 3 Series’ chassis is significantly lighter and 25% stiffer, while a wider front and rear track enhance BMW’s trademark responsive, confident hunkered-down handling. M Sport models add optional Adaptive M suspension that offers even more control and response, while uprated M Sport brakes and an M Sport differential give powerfully precise control right through the bends.
“The BMW 330e looks great, and the build quality is exactly what you’d expect,” said Steve Turner, a photographer and teaching assistant who drives a BMW 335d XDrive, mostly on short journeys. “It’s simply a nice place to be. A lovely car to sit in.”
Neither Steve or his wife Lynsey had driven an electric or hybrid car before sampling the BMW 330e at Goodwood, and they were both impressed by the dual sides of its plug-in hybrid personality. “It felt strange to have to glide serenely away in electric mode with no engine noise, but there’s lots of torque and plenty of acceleration,” Steve added. “When the petrol engine fired up, I was really surprised by the performance. It definitely feels like a BMW. There’s no compromise.”
Putting you in control
The new BMW 3 Series’ chassis is also longer and wider, delivering more shoulder-room in the front, more legroom in the rear and more headroom all-round. Adding the large optional electric glass sunroof only enhances the spacious airy feel.
New aluminium mesh-effect trims and Vernasca leather upholsteries boost the cabin’s high-tech modern look, while the advanced driver-focused BMW Live Cockpit Professional pack blends a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.3-inch Control Display with BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant to give you a greater array of highly connected infotainment features and intuitive voice control.
The optional BMW Head-up Display now has a projection area that is 70% larger, offering an even clearer view of key driving data, while the optional advanced adaptive BMW Laserlights use a non-dazzling high-beam that extends the headlight’s range to 500m (almost double that of LED headlights).
Advanced driver aids such as the optional Parking Assistant Plus make navigating urban areas a breeze with automated parking and 360-degree surround-view cameras. And, as you’d expect from the 2020 What Car? Safety Award winner, the incredible breadth of driver assistance systems inspire real confidence and security on every journey, making journeys easier and more relaxing as well as safer
Finally, despite the addition of the compact lithium-ion battery, the BMW 330e still offers up to 375 litres of luggage space, with versatile 40:20:40 split-rear seats that let you load everything you need for a week of skiing or a weekend of DIY. So, in all respects, the BMW 330e really is the ultimate driving machine. But now electrified.
To find out more about BMW’s extensive range of plug-in hybrids, head to BMW.co.uk